In 2015, Florida cyclist Stefanie Boewe suffered a collapsed lung. During her long recovery she read an article about the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile route that connects existing biking and walking paths and will eventually create a linear park from the Canadian border to Florida’s southernmost point. Having grown up in Germany, touring by bike as a child, Boewe realized she missed long-distance cycling. As she recuperated, she began daydreaming about biking the greenway and visiting friends along the East Coast.
“I thought, ‘If I ever recover from this, I’m going to tell these lungs that they can’t say what I can and cannot do,’” Boewe said. “Plus, I had adopted this dog who goes crazy running with a bike.”
In 2017, over a stretch of 89 days, Boewe biked the entire greenway from Key West, Florida, to Calais, Maine, pulling a trailer and accompanied by her 6-year-old Australian shepherd, Murf. She joined a small tribe of cyclists and walkers who have taken on the whole greenway — even though it’s only one-third complete. For these pioneers, creating a patchwork route of protected paths and sometimes-busy roadways was a small price to pay for the adventure — and bragging rights — of being among the first to complete the East Coast Greenway.
“We’ve been working at this since 1991, trying to think about how to piece together local trails,” said East Coast Greenway Alliance Executive Director Dennis Markatos-Soriano. Forty-four miles were added in 2018 and he’s hoping for similar growth this year.
Markatos-Soriano said the remaining two-thirds of the trail, near or parallel to the future greenway, is included on the online map at map.greenway.org, and that the entire route will have turn-by-turn signage by the end of 2020. “It’s exciting to see the progress and see people experiencing the greenway for themselves. We continue this march to become the most popular park in the country.”
Building a protected, continuous path for cyclists, runners, cross-country skiers, horseback riders and wheelchair users through 15 states is no small logistical feat. It’s also a hefty financial investment. Each mile of greenway built costs about $1 million (mostly funded by the federal government, which partners with states and cities). “But the return on investment is extremely strong,” Markatos-Soriano said. “It’s not just building more connection. It’ll relieve gridlock from busy roads, bring more enjoyment and health to people’s lives, enhance tourism and increase property values.”
While some trails are blissfully removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, other sections wind right through urban centers, including Miami; Richmond, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; New York; and Boston. “We’re trying to go to the doorsteps of where people live and from there provide great access to the outdoors,” Markatos-Soriano said.
He acknowledged that the entire greenway isn’t family-friendly yet, because following the whole route requires navigating some busy roads and gnarly bridges. But plenty of shorter, protected segments that are great for kids or novice cyclists are already complete. He said the different segments of the East Coast Greenway could potentially attract more than 50 million visits per year in the future.
For cyclists like Boewe, pedaling through cities means experiencing, for example, the riverfront in Richmond, national monuments in Washington and iconic architecture in Boston. Boewe also didn’t have to worry about packing a lot of food, because it was easy to fuel up at stores along the way.
Boewe began her journey on a scenic path that parallels Florida’s Highway A1A, passing seaside villages as she rolled north. She not only met countless cyclists, she nearly ran into iguanas, saw deer and was followed by a butterfly for several miles. But the most magical thing, Boewe said, “was kindness of strangers along the way.” One of her scariest stretches was in Florida, when she turned around and saw the “mother of all thunderstorms” behind her. Winds whipped around at 40 miles an hour. She was walking her bike, just trying to keep it from blowing away, when a stranger picked up her and Murf and housed them for the night.
Last year, Brett Bramble, who lost his sister to a drug overdose in 2014, completed a six-month walk of the entire greenway to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and overdose deaths. He had previously completed an improvised walk from Delaware to San Francisco, and the already-mapped greenway appealed to him. Bramble and his two companions (John Azerolo, who turned 60 on the journey, and Domino, a Labrador mix) were the first to walk the entire route in a single trip, covering roughly 20 miles each day. They talked to thousands of people about their mission. Bramble said they had to take “emotional breaks” because not a day passed when they didn’t cry, hearing about the pain of people they met along the way.
“Once, we were just standing at a gas station, with the signs on our carts, and a grown man broke into tears, saying, ‘I just lost my son,’” Bramble said. “One woman saw us coming and came out to the side of the road carrying an urn with her son’s ashes.” During the walk, Bramble said, he raised $30,000 for the addiction treatment center he plans to build in Georgia.
Last summer Nora Jane Montgomery, a tour leader for nonprofit organization Bike & Build, led 15 young volunteers who cycled the entire greenway and stopped to build affordable housing in 15 cities. The group covered about 60 miles each day and relied on donated food and lodging. Montgomery said she appreciated all the East Coast Greenway signage, especially when she wasn’t sure she was on the right path. She also used the greenway’s online mapping tool, which allowed her to determine which routes were closest to the greenway in areas that weren’t yet developed.
“We usually ride East Coast to West Coast,” Montgomery said. “This was our first year on the greenway, and we’re super excited about it.” She said the group rode through a number of small towns that had seen industry come and go and were hopeful that the greenway could “save their town.” She also found some parts of the route that aren’t known for natural splendor — like New Jersey — to be particularly beautiful.
Montgomery, who lives in western North Carolina, said one refrain kept running through her head the entire ride. “I thought, ‘I can’t wait to come back here a couple decades down the line when the greenway is complete,’” she said, “’and maybe take a family.’”
Greenway by state
Below are some of the East Coast Greenway staff’s favorite stretches of completed trail. Mileage figures reflect the portion of each trail that is part of the East Coast Greenway. Visit greenway.org/route-map to map your trip, and email or call the East Coast Greenway Alliance with route questions.
Down East Sunrise Trail, 85 miles
Built on the old Calais Branch railroad corridor through Hancock and Washington counties, this is the longest continuous stretch of the greenway to date. Begin in downtown Ellsworth (the gateway to Acadia National Park) on a paved stretch before the trail turns to gravel, best suited for wide-tire bikes, hiking and cross-country skiing. The 20-mile Eastern Trail is a favorite just south of Portland.
No greenway segments yet, but eventually the route will follow the former Boston and Maine Railroad corridor.
Clipper City Rail Trail, Newburyport, 2 miles
This new, family-friendly trail runs through a seaport town. Cross the Merrimack River for another 5 miles, half of them on greenway. If you’d rather hit the city, check out the 12.5-mile Charles River Bike Path, a busy east-west winding trail with great views of the Boston skyline and the campuses of Harvard and MIT.
Washington Secondary Bike Path, Cranston-Coventry, 19 miles
Cross half the width of Rhode Island on this rail trail that feels urban at its eastern end and rural at the western end, with views of ponds and brick mills in between. The 10-mile East Bay Bike Path is a complementary trail with stunning views of Narragansett Bay.
Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Simsbury-New Haven, 43 miles
This paved path follows the Farmington Canal from downtown New Haven and the Yale University campus north through woods and marshes, over bridges and through parks to Simsbury. From Hartford, take the Charter Oak Greenway and Hop River Trail, which takes Founders Bridge over the Connecticut River.
Hudson River Greenway, New York City, 12.4 miles
Travel north and south on the island of Manhattan, with broad views of the Hudson River. This popular stretch of greenway begins at Battery Park and travels the length of the borough to the George Washington Bridge. In northern New York City, the 10-mile Mosholu-Pelham Greenway connects parks, the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. At the east end, Pelham Bay Park along Long Island Sound features golf courses, hiking and horseback trails. Heading northwest, the trail ends at Van Cortlandt Park.
Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, Jersey City, 1.5 miles
This broad, bricked trail along the river in Jersey City is perfect for a family stroll. Enjoy some of the best views of New York City and access to a number of ferries. For more distance, try the 36-mile D&R Canal Trail, a dirt and gravel path.
Schuylkill River Trail, Philadelphia, 2 miles
Run, bike, walk or skate this new paved stretch of greenway along the river. The trail includes the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk, a wide, elevated path 50 feet from the shore with great views of the city skyline. If you have time, explore the Schuylkill River Trail spur, 25-plus miles upriver from the greenway to Valley Forge and other historic sites. The 8-mile John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Trail is a family-friendly dirt and crushed-stone path just outside Philly.
Jack A. Markell Trail, Wilmington-New Castle, 8 miles
Start in downtown Wilmington with the riverwalk and head out to the stunning DuPont Environmental Education Center, with a view of the Christina River and wildlife refuge. A new boardwalk takes you south to the historic town of New Castle, with another beautiful stretch of greenway along the Delaware River. Just outside downtown Wilmington, ride the 7.5-mile Northern Delaware Greenway, almost all paved surface.
B&A Trail, Annapolis to Baltimore, 12 miles
This well-used paved trail follows a former rail line through communities, parks and wooded areas. Restaurants and bike shops are convenient to the trail in a number of spots. The 7-mile dirt Torrey C. Brown Trail follows the Big Gunpowder River and continues north at Monkton while the East Coast Greenway heads east.
National Mall, 2 miles
A favorite for locals and visitors. From the Lincoln Memorial east, you’ll pass the Reflecting Pool, Vietnam Memorial, Washington Monument and the museums of African American History and Culture, American History, Natural History, Air and Space, and the National Gallery of Art. The 17-mile Anacostia River Trail follows the river and heads northeast towards Annapolis.
Mount Vernon Trail, Alexandria, 16 miles
This winding, heavily used trail takes you from the Mount Vernon estate along the bank of the Potomac River to Arlington Memorial Bridge, crossing into D.C. The 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail parallels the James River and State Route 5 southeast from Richmond to Jamestown Settlement.
Cross-Triangle Greenway, Durham-Cary-Raleigh, 45 miles
Leave downtown Durham at the trailhead of the American Tobacco Trail, across from the Durham Bulls baseball stadium, and bike traffic-free to downtown Raleigh. The East Coast Greenway’s first complete metro area features city parks, the grounds of the state’s art museum, two universities and scenic boardwalks through woods and marshes. Extend your trip east to Clayton on the Neuse River for a 70-mile route, nearly all on trails. The 5-mile Cape Fear River Trail in Fayetteville includes a number of wooden bridges and boardwalks. Ride another mile or two into downtown Fayetteville for restaurants and shopping.
Spanish Moss Trail, Beaufort-Port Royal, 12 miles
This flat, scenic trail is perfect for a family ride. Bike through beautiful wetlands and past historic buildings, including straight through the middle of the old Beaufort Depot. Ride from suburban Charleston west to scenic Lowcountry wetlands on the 8-mile West Ashley Greenway (mostly dirt and crushed stone; wide tires are recommended). On the other side of downtown Charleston, the soaring Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge features a two-way protected bike/walk lane and an observation landing for views of the city and barge traffic on the Cooper River.
Tabby Trail, St. Marys, 4 miles
Explore the small historic waterfront of Georgia’s southernmost coastal town by bike. Quiet neighborhood streets and a growing paved trail network provide access to tabby mill ruins, Crooked River State Park and spectacular views of the St. Marys River.
Amelia Island and Timucuan Trail, 6 miles and 5 miles
The Amelia Island Trail leads from the scenic downtown of Fernandina Beach to follow alongside A1A on the shore. A short on-road section leads you to the Timucuan Trail, running through Big Talbot and Little Talbot state parks and offering beautiful views of the coast with side trails to beaches. For an epic ride, take the 106-mile Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail from Key Largo to Key West, over 23 bridges. Start with a visit to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, known for snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking. Then head southwest for Key West, the southernmost point in the U.S. In between, enjoy miles and miles of blue-green water and flat trails.
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